John Berryman, one of America's most talented modern poets, was winner of the Pulitzer Prize for 77 Dream Songs and the National Book Award for His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. He gained a reputation as an innovator whose bold literary adventures were tempered by exacting discipline. Berryman was also an active, prolific, and perceptive critic whose own experience as a major poet served to his advantage.
Berryman was a prot?g? of Mark Van Doren, the great Shakespearean scholar, and the Bard's work remained one of his most abiding passions--he would devote a lifetime to writing about it. His voluminous writings on the subject have now been collected and edited by John Haffenden.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
December 01, 2000
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Excerpt from Berryman's Shakespeare by John Berryman
Shakespeare's Early Comedy
THE DRAMATIST'S GRANDFATHER was probably a Richard Shakespeare, who farmed in a small way at Snitterfield in Warwickshire, renting from the wealthy Robert Arden of Wilmcote, the other grandfather. The surname had long been common in the Midland counties, since one William Shakespeare [Sakspere] of Gloucester was hanged for robbery in 1248.1 Richard had at least two sons: John, who moved four miles to the market town of Stratford-on-Avon about 1551, and Henry, who remained at Snitterfield farming and died there poverty-stricken in December 1596, his widow, Margaret, following him six weeks later. By the time Richard died in 1560, John Shakespeare was prospering as a glover and butcher, had married above him, and purchased two freehold tenements in Henley Street (next door to the building now known as the Birthplace) and Greenhill Street, both with gardens. Mary Arden brought some property with her, not much, belonging to a lesser branch of one of the county's most influential families. The couple's third child, William--two daughters had died in infancy--was baptized on April 26, 1564.2 The father cured and dressed skins, sold barley and timber; he slaughtered, and dealt in both wool and malt, the town's chief commodities. He was active in civic life. When his son was four, he was elected bailiff (or mayor) of two thousand souls. He signed with a mark and kept the Corporation accounts for years; scarcely anyone now thinks he could not write.3 (Christopher Marlowe's father was supposed illiterate, because he signed his will with a mark, until an excellent signature--prior to the will--turned up in 1937. A mark, originally across, was ceremonial.) Other children followed William--Gilbert, Joan, Richard, Edmund; Anne died at seven, when her most gifted brother was fourteen.
Whether William Shakespeare entered the free Grammar School at five or seven is a mystery for all Professor Baldwin's thousands of pages.4 The least inhuman enquiry into his schooling is still Baynes's5; it consisted of handwriting (the English "secretary" hand) and Latin --William Lily's grammar, the Sententiae Pueriles, Mantuanus' eclogues, Ovid, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Terence, etc. French he must have picked up by himself at some point, enough to use it obscenely in Henry V. Some critics think he knew Italian. He certainly read the Bible, in the Genevan version of 1560, from an early age. He certainly read, all his life, everything he could get his hands on. He played games, fished, hunted, observed rural life as it has rarely been observed by anyone else. Baynes also wrote the most pleasing summary account we have of the influence of the Stratford country--woodland north, champaign south--on senses and a spirit supernaturally keen. How long the boy lived there is doubtful. When he was twelve his father's way of life altered. Having missed only one Corporation meeting in thirteen years (that is, before January 23, 1577), during the next ten years he attended just one, and he did not attend church services. Circumstantial argument lately has failed to shake the evidence that his business affairs were declining6; but new evidence has made it clear that he had remained a Catholic. A testament of faith in his name found under the roof tiling of his house in the eighteenth century, transcribed and lost, is now shown to be a translation--brought to England by Jesuit missionaries in 1580--of an Italian testament [by St. Charles Borromeo] composed in Milan shortly before.7 As of a man who had married near the end of Mary's reign, Catholicism must not disturb us, and many Ardens were Catholics. But the heterodox loyalty helps to explain John Shakespeare's withdrawal from public life; and with regard to his eldest son's training it is of real importance, as arguing an alternation of Catholic influence at home and Protestant influence at school--the latter being further complicated, as de Groot has shown, by an alternation of Protestant and more or less Catholic schoolmasters.8 The profound balance of sympathies which became one of this writer's marked characteristics had thus an early root. By thirteen or fourteen it may be doubted that William Shakespeare had any more to learn from the one of his masters [Simon Hunt] about whom we know almost nothing, and the tradition that his father--with five younger children to support--withdrew him from school to help in the business is plausibleenough. To this age, nothing has been transmitted to us about the boy except that he was eloquent at a dramatic stunt called "Killing the Calf" (you go behind a curtain and act both calf and butcher).9 He had also, now or later, unless John Aubrey was misled, a friend his own age as talented as himself, and another butcher's son, who died young.10
Now, I think, begin the so-called lost years.
Why it should be thought a conservative notion that Shakespeare stayed in Stratford until his marriage I have no idea. Throughout life he returned there from time to time, and very little time is required for either a marriage or the consummation of a marriage. We lose sight of him perhaps at about fifteen. His marriage, in fact, at eighteen, to a woman twenty-six from a hamlet near Stratford, was hasty and probably forced: six months after a bond against impediments was registered at Worcester [November 28, 1582],11 a daughter was christened Susanna [May 26, 1583]. A nuptial pre-contract amounting to marriage, such as Shakespeare actually mentions in Measure for Measure, has been conjectured, and it is true that both practice and law were opposed, in this matter, to ecclesiastical teaching. In any event, from the likelihood that he had to marry it does not follow that he was unwilling to.12 Anne Shakespeare's impressions of the poet have not survived. He did not make a faithful husband, and was seldom at home, but he was after all a husband of whom it is not too much to suppose that a wife could readily be proud, and in time he would flourish. As for Shakespeare's feelings: his portraits of wives are not notably sympathetic except for Hotspur's, Imogen, Hermione, and they include a shrew in The Comedy of Errors, Gertrude, Goneril and Regan, and Lady Macbeth. A young Shakespearean student in Ulysses insists that the poet's wife was unfaithful to him, probably with one of his brothers back home in Stratford. But his notorious bequest to her of their "second-best bed" is not evidence against the quality of the marriage.13 She had been an old maid, and loose; more we cannot say. There is no evidence that she ever joined him in London or elsewhere, for instance on tour. But he always returned to her, and one hopes their last years together were happy. Twins followed the daughter by twenty months, early in 1585, and were named after Hamnet (or Hamlet) Sadler, a baker in High Street, and his wife, Judith. There were no more children.
About a century after these events, the son of an actor who had been with Shakespeare's theatrical company in 1598 told Aubrey that the poet "had been in his younger yeares a Schoolmaster in the Countrey."14 This would be as an usher, presumably, not a schoolmasterproper, and not necessarily for long. A reflection of the supposed experience has been seen in Love's Labour's Lost (where Holofernes strikes me as imagined from the point of view of a victim rather than that of a colleague--not to mention his immediate origin in the Pedant of the commedia dell' arte). It may be. Failing historical support, this remote assertion is on little better footing than modern theses that he was a soldier, a law clerk, a traveller, a printer, an apothecary, and so on. Possible, any of them, or even several, but I can imagine nothing more futile than pinning one's faith to a hypothesis which does not even bear upon the fundamental problem: the transition from provincial obscurity to prominence by 1592 in the London theatre. A tradition that he began by holding gentlemen's horses at the stage door is worth mention.15
The deer-stealing episode which has fixed itself in the public mind is doubly attested and may represent actual experience. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first editor and biographer, wrote in 1709:
He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag'd him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho' this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig'd to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London.16
A late-seventeenth-century Gloucestershire vicar, Richard Davies, adds that Sir Thomas had the poet "oft whipt & sometimes Imprisoned," 17 for which Shakespeare satirized him as the foolish Justice Shallow of The Merry Wives of Windsor, who comes to make a Star Chamber matter of a deer poaching and whose "old coat" bears a "dozen white luces" (pikes, that is, punning on louses), Lucy's arms being "three luces hauriant argent."
I indicate now briefly the four other lines of possibility most attractive in the present state of our knowledge.
The first and vividest is Northern. In the autumn of 1581 died Alexander Houghton, a Lancashire gentleman who kept players; leaving to his brother Thomas if he will keep players--if not, to Sir Thomas Hesketh--instruments and costumes, and specially commending to them William Shakeshafte and another, who now live with him at Lea, evidently players; and leaving to this pair of servants also annuities of two pounds. Now one of the variants of the name used by Shakespeare's grandfather was Shakeshafte. Sir Edmund Chambers, who noticed this will in 1923 and forgot it in his great work of 1930, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, later on--jogged by Oliver Baker--took up the matter again.18 The Houghtons, and Hesketh at Rufford, were on close terms with the Stanleys, whose great house, Knowsley, lay nearby. Hesketh almost certainly kept players and had them there with him in December 1587.19 He died a year later. Both the Stanleys--the fourth Earl of Derby and his son Ferdinando, Lord Strange--of course kept players who made up one of the leading English companies, sometimes under one name, sometimes the other.20 I must enter a little on their history. They performed at Stratford in 1578-79 and 1579-80; may have been the unnamed players at Knowsley thrice in 1588-90 when Lord Strange was there; were eighteen months at the Rose Theatre in London with Philip Henslowe, the manager, early in 1592: giving twenty-three plays, mostly old ones by Marlowe, Robert Greene, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Kyd (ten performances of The Jew of Malta, thirteen of The Spanish Tragedy), but five new ones including "harey the vj" (evidently 1 Henry VI, fifteen performances)21; for several weeks early in 1593 they were there again, and five men who were next year to join Shakespeare in the most famous company of the age (William Kemp the clown, Thomas Pope, John Heminge, Augustine Phillips, George Bryan) were with him when they were given a special license in May and left on tour. Derby died that September, and next spring, during the week before Shakespeare's thirtieth birthday, Derby's son died, April 16, 1594. The company used the Countess's name at Winchester on May 16, 1593, but in the summer reshuffled (Edward Alleyn, remaining personally the Lord Admiral's servant, had been at their head for some time) and dispersed. If the William Shakeshafte of 1581 is Shakespeare at seventeen, it is clear that he might have passed readily thence to Strange's Men, where most critics used to locate him and some (among them Sir Walter Greg) still do. Possibly in the present paragraph we have seen him lose three, four, or even five patrons.22
This Houghton will is the first document ever to emerge suggesting, what many have hoped, that he may have been early familiar with a distinguished house; where, they fancy, he acquired the knowledge of books and manners that his plays evince. I see myself no difficulty in his reading almost anywhere, and I think with H. Granville-Barker that he learnt about life from writing plays aboutit. But this Lancashire avenue is undeniably interesting. The first thirty-five years of George Chapman's life were a total blank until 1946, when we learnt that he was long attendant on a member of the Privy Council, Sir Ralph Sadler, whether brought up by him, as Michael Drayton was by Sir Henry Goodere, or domesticated later in life, as was Samuel Daniel at Wilton.23
A frailer line of enquiry has opened up even more recently. An imperfect copy of Edward Hall's chronicle has come to light containing some four hundred marginalia (3,600 words) which are claimed as Shakespeare's; this is the edition of 1550, which he is known to have used. They occur mostly over the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V. It wants critical examination, paleographic and linguistic.24
The third line was suggested at the end of the last century by Judge [D. H.] Madden and has been developed by Caroline Spurgeon, in appendices to their pioneering studies (The Diary of Master William Silence and Shakespeare's Imagery).25 Shakespeare in 2 Henry IV knows Gloucestershire remarkably well: games, husbandry, the "sedgie" Severn. By then, if not long before, he had travelled over half England playing; but he names people (who we find lived there) at places near Berkeley Castle, which he also knows not only well (in Richard II) but emotionally, as Miss Spurgeon has made clear with an analysis of his martlet images; and both he and his wife appear to have had relatives there in the Cotswolds. Berkeley's Men played at Stratford in the year before he married and again in the year after he married.
A fourth surmise concerns the Queen's Men, the most powerful company of the 1580s. A. W. Pollard points out that Shakespeare took over later the substantive materials of at least three of their extant plays, handling them not so much like a man who had merely read the plays as like one who had acted in them years before, with a strong grasp of situation but negligible verbal congruity. The objection that he might equally have just seen them acted is more satisfactory, I venture to think, with respect to The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth and King Leir than with respect to The Troublesome Reign of King John. This company mostly broke up on the comedian Richard Tarlton's death in 1588.26
WE DO NOT KNOW whether Shakespeare began literary work for the stage with original plays or with collaborations or by revising existingplays; and we do not know whether he started with history or comedy. It is not very likely that all his early dramatic work is preserved or has been recognized as his. Only twenty-five plays by anybody survive now assignable to the crucial decade, which was not the 1590s, as most modern authorities suppose, but the 1580s. The chief contenders in the canon, for his initial surviving efforts, are probably the Plautine farce The Comedy of Errors and the chronicle known to us by the misleading title given to it long afterwards by the editors of the Shakespeare Folio in 1623, 2 Henry VI. Later it will be convenient to deal with it [2 Henry VI] and 3 Henry VI together, as a two-part history, but the first part is so much more impressive and inspired than its sequel that I want to consider it first alone. It has not been often praised by critics--Coleridge never mentioned it, nor Edward Dowden, except to canvass in a footnote the division among scholars up to his time in regard to authorship27; only E.M.W. Tillyard devotes fifteen pages to it as "a fine piece of construction ... a fine whole."28 It is little read and seldom performed. But I took a friend, the poet and playwright Louis MacNeice, to a production at the Old Vic in 1953 and he agreed with me afterwards that it is a damned good play. It is also, in its extensive Shakespearean part, one of the most original plays of the decade, preceded--so far as we know--only by the miserable Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (about 1586). The English chronicle play sprang out of nowhere, without either classical or native models. We must abandon the long-established view of Shakespeare as a mere perfecter, though rehandling here, it is true, the work of other men: Greene, Peele, and perhaps Marlowe, collaborating in the original version of the play. Dover Wilson finds Shakespeare's hand in eighteen of its scenes, and thinks he wrote three alone.29 Chambers's dating, 1590, is certainly too late. Perhaps it belongs to 1588 or earlier, just after Marlowe's 1 Tamburlaine of 1587, to the verse of which 2 Henry VI in its heroic speeches (only) is clearly indebted. Marlowe's influence on Shakespeare, though real, has long been greatly exaggerated; the judicious Clark Lectures of F. P. Wilson, published as Marlowe and the Early Shakespeare (1953), embodied and strengthened a reaction to the traditional view.
How to characterize this new, frequently unmistakable voice? Already in fluent verse he can reason, mourn, exult, rebuke, curse, quarrel; already his prose, in the Cade scenes of Act IV, is flexible, vigorous, individual. Already his persons are distinct beyond their actions. Already both pathos and irony are ready to hand. Already a bewildering, unprecedented variety of human experience is deployed without confusion: intrigue, ambition, pride, penance, a raving death,wrangling, the supernatural, the amusing inconsequence and brutality of the common people, hawking, murder, domestic life, treachery, nobility, resignation, the businesslike (curt, natural, manly), the ominous, the contemptuous, the exalted. Already he is a young master of both the amplitude and the expressive conciseness in which he was to outdo almost all other writers, rivalling in the one the poet of the Iliad and in the other the poet of the Commedia. I take from the wealth of the play two tiny strokes, the first of understatement, the second of Shakespearean psychological inwardness. When the Duchess of Gloucester's resort to black magic is discovered in I.iv, her exposer comments on the disastrous consequences to her husband, the most powerful man in the realm, with one satisfied, grim line: "A sorry breakfast for my Lord Protector."
My second instance also follows on an exposure--a telling dramatic device to which Shakespeare would be devoted throughout his career. In the next scene (II.i) the royal party is introduced to a "miracle": a beggar, with his wife, pretends to have been blind and to have recovered his sight. When Gloucester exposes him and orders their punishment, the poor wife moans: "Alas Sir, we did it for pure need." This gratuitous touch of the playwright's sympathy does not save her, but a glimpse of helpless suffering has been afforded.
As we enjoy this well-invented episode, we are also aware that the secure and penetrating Gloucester and his wife, as high as the beggars are low, are just about to be disgraced and punished. The play is rich already in foreshadowing, double awareness, contrast, out of the reach of his contemporaries. His rendering of death scenes shows, I think, enjoyment as well as skill: an evil cardinal's deathbed babbling (III.iii), the spoiled and mighty Suffolk's lonely, ignominious end (IV.i). The author's dawning, enthusiastic ability to convey complex character I reserve till later in the chapter, when we come to his first major achievement, Richard III. The personality of this vivid man seems to have engaged Shakespeare from the outset, his sudden introduction in V.i:
His leaps-and-bounds development through 3 Henry VI is one of that play's keenest strands of interest.
2 Henry VI intertangles four themes: Suffolk and the Queen, Gloucester's dominance and fall, York's claim to the crown, Cade's rebellion; three of which are brought to a conclusion, the Yorkist third dominating then the second play, where Warwick is the unifier of the contention, insofar as one can be found in a rather random performance that looks forward to Richard III even more explicitly than the preceding play looked forward to it. Richard is the focus whenever he appears. He teases the hesitant York onward in I.ii:
How sweet a thing it is to weare a Crowne, Within whose Circuit is Elizium, And all those Poets faine of Blisse and Ioy.
His announcement of and wrestling with his own ambition, in the long fine soliloquy that concludes III.ii, provides midway the play's high point:
I, Edward will vse Women honourably: Would he were wasted, Marrow, Bones, and all, That from his Loynes no hopefull Branch may spring, To crosse me from the Golden time I looke for: And yet, betweene my Soules desire, and me, The lustfull Edwards Title buryed, Is Clarence, Henry, and his Sonne young Edward, And all the vnlook'd-for Issue of their Bodies, To take their Roomes, ere I can place my selfe: A cold premeditation for my purpose.
And the difficulties multiply upon him, until:
And I, like one lost in a Thornie Wood, That rents the Thornes, and is rent with the Thornes, Seeking a way, and straying from the way, Not knowing how to finde the open Ayre, But toying desperately to finde it out, Torment my selfe, to catch the English Crowne: And from that torment I will free my selfe, Or hew my way out with a bloody Axe.
His confusion, in this middle of his speech, accommodates itself to the weak King's confusion over his identity. The polarity of the two characters is the single most salient element in what form Shakespeare has been able to impose upon the play. Henry gives himself credit for royal virtues--before the battle of Barnet (IV.viii) he says of his people:
my meed hath got me fame: I haue not stopt mine eares to their demands, Nor posted off their suites with slow delayes, My pittie hath beene balme to heale their wounds, My mildnesse hath allay'd their swelling griefes, My mercie dry'd their water-flowing teares.
--but he is aware that these are not the proper qualifications for rule in the turbulent world he inhabits, and when this grievous reflection calls into question his very self-image (III.i) he can only, in reply to their questioning, say that he is
More then I seeme, and lesse then I was born to: A man at leaste, for lesse I should not be ...
Whereas Richard, by the end of his soliloquy, has thrown off his irresolution and is himself again:
Why I can smile, an murther whiles I smile, And cry, Content, to that which grieuves my Heart, And wet my Cheekes with artificial Teares, And frame my Face to all occasions. Ile drowne more Saylers then the Mermaid shall, Ile slay more gazers then the Basiliske, Ile play the Orator as well as Nestor, Deceiue more slyly then Vlisses could, And like a Synon, take another Troy. I can adde Colours to the Camelion, Change shapes with Proteus, for aduantages, And set the murtherous Macheuill to Schoole. Can I doe this, and cannot get a Crowne? Tut, were it farther off, Ile plucke it downe.
Later on, when all is won with his murder of Henry, the theme is made still more explicit:
I haue no Brother, I am like no Brother: And this word (Loue) which Gray-beards call diuine, Be resident in men like one another, And not in me: I am my selfe alone.
I Henry VI BELONGS several years later on: Chambers puts it in 1592.30 ... It was extremely popular, no doubt for the patriotic ranting of the Talbot scenes, but it is not much of a play and Shakespeare had very little to do with it. Most critics find him only in the Temple Garden scene (II.iv) and one Talbot scene (IV.ii), both of which Chambers thinks he inserted only in 1594 or even later.31 The original play was probably by Peele and somebody else, possibly Marlowe, splitting between them the native and the French actions. It has done Shakespeare's reputation more damage than anything except Titus Andronicus.
But with this other inferior canonical play the case is different. Attempts to prove it a collaboration have failed, in spite of a stage tradition (reported by Ravenscroft in 1687) that it was the work of a "private author," to which Shakespeare "only gave some master-touches to one or two of the principal parts or characters."32 This is very slight evidence against the great weight of the folio attribution, which is moreover supported by Francis Meres's list of Shakespeare's plays down to 1598.33
Three main critical views seem available to us. The first is best put by Mark Van Doren: "a conscious parody of the tragedy of blood considered as a current form."34 I feel very little confidence in this. The second is that of Hardin Craig: "In spite of Shakespeare's masterly motivation in his rearrangement of scenes, and in spite of excellent invention and noble rhetoric, Titus Andronicus remains a relatively unpleasing work. We may say that the subject is impossible, unsuited to Shakespeare's wise and gentle genius, and these things are true; but it is the change in our race and its mores which is to be blamed, or it may be to be congratulated, that Titus Andronicus has lost its charm ... The play is indeed horrible with a horror that nobody but Shakespeare could have given it."35 A third, rather attractive view is M. C. Bradbrook's, that it "seems a first crude attempt to portray some experience that Shakespeare was only to recognize, understand and embody in a 'lively image' at a much later stage."36
Dating the play is exceptionally difficult, partly because of our ignorance of its relation to a lost Titus and Vespasian of 1592. But the anonymous A Knack to Know a Knave (1592) obviously alludes to it with
As Titus was vnto the Roman Senators, When he had made a conquest on the Goths
so it cannot be later than that.37 It may be much earlier: Ben Jonson in 1614 refers to it as extant "these fiue and twentie, or thirtie yeeres,"38 taking us back to 1584. Taking the lesser figure in this loose expression of memory, we get 1589, which will have to do. A few lines in IV.i sound like Shakespeare at about this date:
And come, I will goe get a leafe of brasse, And with a Gad of steele will write these words, And lay it by: the angry Northern winde Will blow these sands like Sibels leaues abroad, And wheres your lesson then.
THE BEGUILING, unpredictable, terrible Richard III has been done justice by audiences and critics alike as Shakespeare's most brilliantly drawn character earlier than Shylock half a dozen years later. To make a monster attractive was the poet's problem, and he brought to it, not indeed the spiritual insight and the dramatic resource available when he created Macbeth, but all his considerable theatrical ingenuity of 1590--the date I follow Dover Wilson in accepting for the play. His success with the play is limited because nothing is allowed to compete with his hero's personality, except Clarence's dream: it is otherwise an interminable, tiresome railing by bereft ladies. But the work done with Richard is enough.
It was necessary above all to humanize him, make him credible, and this was accomplished mainly by inventing for him a tone, an idiom, verbal and psychological, to contrast with the rhetorical convention that informs almost everything else in the play. A mere trick of iteration was helpful here. "How hath your Lordship brook'd imprisonment?" he asks Hastings in the opening scene:
In I.iii Queen Margaret is rebuking Dorset for being "malapert" with his "fire-new stampe of Honor," which he may lose: "Rich. Goodcounsaile marry, learne it, learne it, Marquese." In III.v, as the Lord Mayor leaves, "Goe after, after, Cousin Buckingham."
These are slight touches, and nothing is made of them such as the poet will make of the same mannerism when he comes to Falstaff and Hamlet, but they help enforce the sense of an individual speaking. The invention of a psychological idiom for him is more important. To the crucial conference in the Tower, III.iv, where the chief nobles of the kingdom are seated around a table anxiously awaiting his decisions, he enters late, remarking, "I haue been long a sleeper," addresses the affectionate lines to Hastings (whom he is about to destroy), and then suddenly says:
My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborne, I saw good Strawberries in your Garden there, I doe beseech you, send for some of them.
His malicious pleasure here is to lull his victim into security, and Hastings in fact presently says with satisfaction, when Richard has left the room for a moment, "His Grace looks chearfully & smooth this morning ..." But Shakespeare is up to something else also: a deepening of the audience's view of the character: the abrupt revelation of a man with a life of his own apart from history and the plot, an easygoing, self-possessed lover of strawberries.
Very well: this diabolical Duke, this tyrannical King, regarded by all as not merely inhuman but animal, called variously hedgehog, toad, dog, spider, tiger, cockatrice, wolf, hell-hound, and boar, especially boar, is a human being like ourselves, having virtues as well as vices, complicated, convincingly real. We must try to assess his character. Coleridge, with his taste for philosophical simplification, once told an audience at Bristol that Richard's chief characteristic was "pride of intellect."39 I agree that this is an element. But can we really see it as central to Richard's outrageous conduct? I would rather find a center in his inspired, daring, and flagrant hypocrisy, intimately and ironically accompanied by what has to be called brutal sincerity.
Nothing less than this double formulation, it seems to me, will do for Richard's ghoulish, sprightly procedure in what has always seemed to me his finest scene, the wooing of Anne. He intercepts her in a London street as she is conveying the body of her slain father-in-law, King Henry VI, to Chertsey for entombment; hears out her curses; parries her thrusts. Gradually he becomes more and more ingratiating, and then he counter-attacks: her eyes, he says, "kill me with a liuing death" and made even him, who never wept for Rutland or for his father, weep for her beauty.
She lookes scornfully at him. Teach not thy lip such Scorne: for it was made For kissing Lady, not for such contempt. If thy reuengefull heart cannot forgive. Loe heere I lend thee this sharpe-pointed Sword, Which if thou please to hide in this true brest, And let the Soule forth that adoreth thee, I lay it naked to the deadly stroke, And humbly begge the death vpon my knee. He Layes his brest open, she offers at (it) with his sword. Nay do not pause: For I did kill King Henrie, But 'twas thy Beauty that prouoked me. Nay now dispatch: 'Twas I that stabb'd yong Edward, But 'twas thy Heauenly face that set me on. She fals the Sword. Take up the Sword againe, or take vp me.
This is too much for her, and presently she is saying helplessly, "I would I knew thy heart." Then she actually accepts his ring, he dismisses her and the burial party go their separate ways, and he is left alone to his gleeful self-congratulation:
Was euer woman in this humour woo'd? Was euer woman in this humour wonne? Ile haue her, but I will not keepe her long.
But this rapid and sinister foreglancing at her death gives way at once to droll (and scornful) rejoicing over his victory. Note that he never shows the slightest sympathy, respect, or even liking for her: at the same time he is wholly in earnest, wholly sincere, about getting her hand. Probably it is his daring that wins both her and the audience: nobody thinks she will strike, but the gesture is melodramatic and engaging. It is not plausible, apart from Shakespeare's imposition upon his audience of the character he had invented for his hero or villain. A deeper seizure of personality, an advanced craft, when he comes to represent the implausibilities of Macbeth, will be both necessary and attainable.
Richard is only first-class journeyman work, a performance we admire rather than feel with. For instance, he never exhibits either affection or remorse. But even in Act IV the dramatist is still working at his development: we have learnt from his poor wife, twice, of his continual nightmares, and his mother mourns out to him a short history of himself:
Thou cam'st on earth, to make the earth my Hell. A greeuous burthen was thy Birth to me, Tetchy and wayward was thy Infancie. Thy School-daies frightfull, desp'rate, wilde, and furious, Thy prime of Manhood, daring, bold, and venturous: Thy Age confirm'd, proud, subtle, slye, and bloody, More milde, but yet more harmfull; Kinde in hatred: What comfortable houre canst thou name, That euer grac'd me with thy company?
Richard replies to this with a contemptuous pun. His startling loss of self-possession is finely conveyed in IV.iv, and the agitated soliloquy of V.iii, after the coming and going of the ghosts, is the effective end of him, where Shakespeare has saved for the character his most piercing, pathetic line: "Richard loues Richard, that is, I am I."
This brings to a close the identity problem of 3 Henry VI, and corresponds, at its lesser level, to the "miserable conceit" and self-cheering-up that Dr. Johnson and T. S. Eliot found characteristic of Shakespeare's greatest tragic heroes.
The other achievement of the play, more remarkable perhaps even than what is done with Richard, is of course Clarence's dream. Here for the first time in his dramatic work Shakespeare brings his full powers as a poet into play. With Clarence's terrible lines,
What scourge for Periurie, Can this darke Monarchy affoord false Clarence?
we might think ourselves in the night world of the tragedies or the Inferno itself. And the romantic beauty of the lines just following look forward to the poetry of Romeo and Juliet:
Then came wand'ring by, A Shadow like an Angell, with bright hayre Dabbel'd in blood ...
Not much is made of Clarence otherwise--we have the King his brother's penetrating characterization, "his fault was Thought"--but two new dimensions have been added to Shakespeare's armory.
King John HAS BEEN generally and rightly regarded as one of the playwright's weakest performances. He found the reign chaotic, and chaotic he left it; despite his pains taken with the unattractive monarch, the "blunt" and "sprightfull" Bastard Faulconbridge, and Arthur.For John himself, the best word that has ever been said is Walter Pater's, who thought Shakespeare "allows" him "a kind of greatness, making the development of the play centre in the counteraction of his natural gifts--that something of heroic force about him--by a madness which takes the shape of reckless impiety, forced especially on men's attention by the terrible circumstances of his end, in the delineation of which Shakespeare triumphs, setting, with true poetic tact, this incident of the King's death, in all the horror of a violent one, amid a scene delicately suggestive of what is perennially peaceful and genial in the outward world."40 This, we may feel, is to do more than justice to the poet's intentions and achievement in what for Chambers and others is "hardly more than a bit of hack work,"41 lacking both unity and coherence.
If anything is to be found worth comment here, it is the patriotic energy of the Bastard, whom Shakespeare obviously intended to make a focus for the sprawling action, and the situation and fate of the young Prince. For the second, where a certain pathos is barely secured, we need only quote his mother's lines:
And so hee'l dye: and rising so againe, When I shall meet him in the Court of heauen I shall not know him: therefore neuer, neuer Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.
But the Bastard is complicated. He serves not only as a proponent but as a critic of the action: "Mad world, mad kings, mad composition," he begins his splendid soliloquy on "Commoditie" at the end of II.i. He is even a critic, like Hotspur and Hamlet after him, of the inflated language in which the action is conducted:
Zounds, I was neuer so bethumpt with words, Since I first cal'd my brothers father Dad.
The peculiarities of his character, however, are laid aside when he comes to pronounce the dignified concluding lines of the play, foreshadowing the exalted patriotism of Shakespeare's later histories:
This England neuer did, nor neuer shall Lye at the proud foote of a Conqueror, But when it first did helpe to wound it selfe. Now, these her Princes are come home againe,Come the three corners of the world in Armes, And we shall shocke them: Naught shall make vs rue, If England to it selfe, do rest but true.
"Later," I said; but how much later? The dating of King John presents us with a problem more vexed than any other in the whole canon, exception made for the similarly perplexing All's Well that Ends Well. The received modern date used to be 1596, which was argued for at length by G. B. Harrison in 1930 and independently accepted by Chambers in the same year.42 These are high authorities. But their date was violently disturbed by J. Dover Wilson in his careful New Shakespeare edition of the play in 1936, where he proposed and defended the year 1590, reversing moreover the traditional view of the relation of Shakespeare's play to the anonymous two-part play The Troublesome Reign of King John, published in 1591: he asserted, on the basis of an analysis of the texts more searching than anyone before had given them, that instead of being Shakespeare's source, as critics mostly had hitherto thought, the anonymous play(s) derived from King John, of which they were merely an inept expansion. Wilson was joined in both these revolutionary conclusions by E.A.J. Honigmann when he brought out his admirable new Arden edition in 1954.43
The specific internal evidence is slight and ambiguous. "Basilisco-like" [I.i.244] refers to a character in Soliman and Perseda, a play assigned by Kyd's editor, F. S. Boas, to 1588 or later. Very likely "An Ate stirring him to bloud and strife" (II.i.63) is indebted to Spenser's Faerie Queene (1590), II.iv, stanza 42:
For all in blood and spoile is his delight. His am I Atin, his in wrong and right ... And stirre him up to strife ...
Samuel Daniel's Complaint of Rosamund (1592) probably echoes II.ii.52, and H. Constable's Diana (also 1592) is in one passage too close for coincidence to IV.i.61-66: see Honigmann's notes. Everything really turns on our decision as to the relation between John and The Troublesome Reign, and this is a matter of cumulative evidence, except for one important general consideration, which I have never seen put with proper force or perhaps put at all. How can it be supposed, and why was it ever by anyone supposed, that Shakespeare would at any date rewrite a play so bad, adhering so closely to it? Allhis extensive practice with early plays--with The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, with George Gascoigne's Supposes, with George Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra, with the old King Leir--forbids absolutely, in my opinion, any such supposition; and I have no doubt that Wilson and Honigmann are right. One striking difference, though, noted by Wilson, is worth remark: for Shakespeare the King is a usurper, whereas the author of Troublesome Reign--whether Marlowe (Malone), W. Rowley partly (Pope), Peele (H. D. Sykes),44 or S. Rowley partly (Honigmann)--makes him into a legitimate and native hero.
One final and fascinating matter must be summarized. Alfred Harbage drew attention in 1941 to an Elizabethan play, Guy Earl of Warwick, first printed in 1661 as "by B.J."45 Act II of this contains the following passage:
When we juxtapose with this a curious little interchange in King John it seems likely that the two plays are connected.
Now just five lines earlier, the Bastard has cited "Colbrand the Gyant," who was Guy's final opponent in the other play; and the clown Philip Sparrow presently is saying, "There's rumours abroad." The multiple combination of the Guy legend and "Philip" and "sparrow" and "There's ... abroad," taken in conjunction with a clown from Stratford-on-Avon with a "fine finical name ... high mounting" (like "Shakespeare"), cannot be coincidental. Guy must be later thanJohn, but only a little later, and there must be a satire on the poet as (1) a clown, (2) of stated provincial origin, (3) with a high-sounding, perhaps ridiculous name, and (4) twitted with lechery. One would certainly like to know who wrote this play. It was a "young" playwright (Time says in the final chorus, "For he's but young that writes of this Old Time"), but there seem to be no other indications of authorship; the monosyllables are against Thomas Nashe, whom otherwise "Martiallist" and "apprehensive" and "dolent" might point to.46
BY 1591, I NOT EARLIER, William Shakespeare was a figure in the London theatrical world, with active friends and at least one bitter enemy. To this year belongs what may have been the first public compliment paid to him, and to the year following, the first public insult. Queen Elinor in George Peele's Edward I (1591) says with some awkwardness to the Scottish King:
Shake thy spears, in honour of his name, Under whose royalty thou wear'st the same.47
The likelihood of an allusion here, discovered by A. W. Pollard, to Shakespeare as the actor of the part is reinforced by the tradition that the poet regularly played kingly parts.48 A pleasant outset for his reputation, if so.
The next year the celebrated Robert Greene lay dying, warning--in his last work, Greenes Groatsworth of Wit (1592, S.R., September 20)--Marlowe and apparently other university playwrights away from actors:
Those Puppets (I meane) that spake from our mouths, those Anticks garnisht in our colours. Is it not strange, that I, to whome they all haue beene beholding ... shall (were yee in that case as I am now) bee both at once of them forsaken? Yes trust them not: for there is an vpstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute lohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.49
Quite apart from the impudent parody of one of Shakespeare's lines in 3 Henry VI ("Oh Tygres Heart, wrapt in a Womans Hide," I.iv.137), here was a congeries of contempt and slander that might enter into the soul. To the savage scorn for Shakespeare as an uneducated, base (and insolent) actor is joined an intense resentment and envy of Shakespeare's dramatic success.50 Whether the injuredpoet made any reply to this deathbed attack is a question I postpone. But he resented it to the public effect that within three months the young playwright and printer Henry Chettle was apologizing to him and Marlowe in an Epistle to his own Kind-Harts Dreame (1592, S.R., December 8). He names neither man, but no scholar has doubted their identities. Apparently they have accused him of writing the libel himself, which he disclaims, speaking of
a letter written to diuers playmakers, is offensiuely by one or two of them taken; and because on the dead they cannot be auenged, they wilfully forge in their conceites a liuing Author: and after tossing it to and fro, no remedy, but it must light on me ... With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I neuer be [obviously Marlowe, with his atrocious personal reputation]: The other, whome at that time I did not so much spare [while editing Greene's papers for the press], as since I wish I had, for that ... I am as sory as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because my selfe haue seene his demeanor no lesse ciuill than he exelent in the qualitie he professes: Besides, diuers of worship haue reported his uprightnes of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writting, that approoues his Art.51
Observe how explicit and comprehensive is this witness in repudiation. To Greene's libel of egotism, Chettle replies with his experience (just recently) of Shakespeare's civility; to Greene's contempt for the actor, with his judgement not alone of Shakespeare's excellence but, by implication, of the worth of the profession or "quality." To dispose of what many contemporaries (among them Barnabe Riche, renewing Greene's attack in a work of 1594)52 seem to have taken as a charge of plagiarism, owing to a misunderstanding (possibly) of the "feathers" phrase, Chettle then invokes general honourable witness to Shakespeare's moral character, and not only to this but to the elegance ("facetious" meaning polished) of his work for the stage.53 Courtesy, professional excellence, integrity, artistry. A most unusual apology, I think, especially when viewed in the light of an independence, on Chettle's part, that refused to make any amends whatever to the most famous playwright of the moment; and a vivid introduction to the subject of the present biography.
WE SAW THAT in the best modern opinion Shakespeare had largely to break ground for himself in the English chronicle play, and wewill see later that something of the sort was his necessity also when he came to essay tragedy. But four main avenues already to some degree explored lay open before him in comedy; and he took, quickly, all four. There was Roman comedy, and The Comedy of Errors adapts Plautus' Menaechmi, with an addition from the Amphitruo. There was the bombastic, often obscene element in the Morality or "Interlude," and he adopted this tradition not only into his comedies but into his history plays: Richard actually says,
Thus, like the formall Vice, Iniquitie, I morallize two meanings in one word--
on which the best gloss is A. P. Rossiter's, that "Barabas, the Jew of Malta, Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Richard III, and Iago has each his devil's shadow; and the tricksy malice and jocularity of each of them derives from the tradition of the old Vice, but for whom no villain need have been a comic."54 There was the native low comedy of Ralph Roister Doister (1553) and Gammer Gurton's Needle, and he was to make much use of this. Finally there was native elegant high comedy, on the Italian model, in the court plays of John Lyly, who may certainly be regarded as one of Shakespeare's masters, with his mark unmistakable on The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Love's Labour's Lost.
The Errors is nothing much to read, perhaps, but it has one commanding merit, which was put admirably by the veteran Ashley Thorndike. "Where Shakespeare's play," he writes, "surpasses Lyly's and all other imitations of the Roman comedy is not so much in the ingenuity of the plotting as in its adaptability of the stage ... The farce itself moves with unwavering attention to the dramatic possibilities of comic situation. In comparison with the best plays of the time, 'Mother Bombie' included, there is astonishingly little in it that is incidental and adventitious. The action never wanders off into byways and never stops--even for a song. Characterization and witty dialogue never delay the movement. As a result it was funny on Shakespeare's stage and has been just as funny on every stage where it has been acted."55 In fact, fitted out with music [by Rodgers and Hart] and called The Boys from Syracuse, it was a smash hit on Broadway some years ago . One great reason for this effectiveness, in which none of his contemporary playwrights at all rivalled him, is certainly the specific character of Shakespeare's play-imagining. I take two instances. The part of Pinch was evidently written for the actor JohnSincler or Sincklo (who perhaps also played Robert Faulconbridge in John a year later)56:
a hungry leane-fac'd Villaine; A meere Anatomie, a Mountebanke, A thred-bare Iugler, and a Fortune-teller, A needy-hollow-ey'd-sharpe-looking-wretch; A liuing dead man.
And Baldwin has proved beyond doubt that the play was written for either the Theatre or the Curtain, both only a few yards away from the old Great Gate of Holywell Priory in Finsbury Fields just north of London, and adjacent equally to one of London's principal places of execution:
the melancholly vale; The place of death, and sorrie execution, Behinds the ditches of the Abbey heere.
He notes eight points of description for Act V's abbey of nuns: its abbey gate opens onto a street which leads to a nearby place of execution in a vale which is behind the ditches of the abbey, which are on the opposite side of the procession approach. He goes on to think Shakespeare witnessed the hanging here of a priest, William Hartley, on Saturday morning, October 5, 1588; but has not I think made out his case sufficiently for conviction.57
Two able passages may be cited as a sort of makeweight against the absence of any Shakespearean character-drawing. One unites the play's dominant Quest theme and the Identity theme that we found prominent in Henry VI and Richard III:
For know my loue: as easie maist thou fall A drop of water in the breaking gulfe, And take vnmingled thence that drop againe Without addition or diminishing, As take from me thy selfe, and not me too.
The other is a spirited crescendo of dialogue illustrating, even so early, Shakespeare's unique ability to put pressure on and then suddenly apply it with an unexpected turn. Adriana explains to the Abbess that her husband has gone mad only recently, and the Abbessmakes tranquil enquiry into the cause: lost wealth, a buried friend, "vnlawfull loue"?
And she crushes the jealous wife with a violent speech.
But there is little enough of this excitement, even the four women are without character, and most critics have thought the Errors Shakespeare's first comedy. I follow Fleay and Baldwin in assigning it to 1589. "France ... arm'd and reuerted, making warre against her heire" (II.ii.126) alludes to Henri IV, who became entitled to the throne on August 12 of that year, as a result of a spectacular opportunistic conversion which electrified London--he is supposed to have said, "Paris vaut une Messe." Spain's "Armadoes of Carrects" just earlier refers to the year before. The name Menaphon (V.i.368) is borrowed from Greene's new romance of that name (1589 also),58 which twenty years later the poet made into The Winter's Tale: perhaps Aegeon's reunion with his Abbess wife at the end was suggested by a similar reunion in Menaphon, though his general source for the enveloping action is Gower's Confessio Amantis. I do not know where he picked up the Greek cities' trade war.
THOUGH LESS EFFECTIVE than the Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona is more like the comedies Shakespeare would write after these, in three ways worth our notice. He is much interested, throughout the play, in an ideal of gentility--the perfect courtier, well-born, handsome, skilled, travelled, scholar and lover and ideal friend. This was in the High Renaissance air all about him, for the listening: but he very likely read at some point Hoby's translation of Castiglione's Courtier (1586), and scholars are surely right in thinking that he was strongly influenced, both here and later, by Sir Thomas Elyot's admirable treatise on the education of the statesman (and "any other Christian gentleman," as Canon Ainger added), The Governour (1531).59 Proteus' treachery to his friend Valentine follows closely Titus' treachery to Gysippus (II.xii), except that we may feel Elyot has drawn Titus more plausibly than Shakespeare has been able to draw Proteus. Certain passages also remind one verbally of Elyot, and I will mention two when we come to Hamlet and The Tempest, though as usual with him Shakespeare transforms what he remembers, so that it is hard to be sure of his borrowings.
A second point is the sudden emergence of the dramatist's ability to represent women. Her maid brings Julia a suitor's letter; she thrusts it back unopened and sends the maid away and says:
And yet I would I had ore-look'd the Letter: It were a shame to call her back againe, And pray her to a fault, for which I chid her. What 'foole is she, that knowes I am a Maid, And would not force the letter to my view? Since Maides, in modesty, say no, to that, Which they would haue the proferrer construe, I. Fie, fie: how way-ward is this foolish loue; That (like a testie Babe) will scratch the Nurse, And presently, all humbled kisse the Rod? How churlishly, I chid Lucetta hence, When willingly, I would haue had her here? How angerly I taught my brow to frowne, When inward ioy enforc'd my heart to smile? My pennance is, to call Lucetta backe And aske remission, for my folly past. What hoe: Lucetta.
Here's a good deal done with a girl's soul in seventeen lines, and the poet never rivalled it again till Juliet herself. Notice the emotional organization. An introductory line of pensive regret: then three distichs, one with "shame," a second with "foole," the third an accusatory generalization on "foole," leading to the climax "Fie, fie," which begins the three-line unit that is the centre of the soliloquy; then three more distichs of self-reproach, leading to action taken inthe final half-line, standing alone as an outcome of the debate announced in the opening line. Novice work, perhaps, but what talent. A promising beginning for the character; but this is all we get: she never develops--and Sylvia, the other heroine, is negligible. Still, the dramatist is under way with women.
The third point is the sudden endowing of a clown--against our expectation--with a voice of his own. Speed in Act I is nothing, any more than the Dromios were (and he continues to be nothing throughout). A second clown comes onstage alone at II.iii.l and begins to talk to himself, or rather he begins to confide in the audience:
Nay, 'twill bee this howre ere I haue done weeping: all the kinde of the Launces, haue this very fault: I haue receiv'd my proportion, like the prodigious Sonne, and am going with Sir Protheus to the Imperialls Court: I thinke Crab my dog, be the sowrest natured dogge that liues: My Mother weeping: my Father wayling: my Sister crying: our Maid howling: our Catte wringing her hands, and all our house in a great perplexitie, yet did not this cruell-hearted Curre shedde one teare ... Ile shew you the manner of it. This shooe is my father: no, this left shooe is my father; no, no, this left shooe is my mother: nay, that cannot bee so neyther: yes, it is so, it is so: it hath the worser sole: this shooe with the hole in it, is my mother ... I am the dogge: no, the dogge is himselfe, and I am the dogge: oh, the dogge is me, and I am my selfe: I; so, so ...
Here we attend, for the first time in English comedy, to a definite and irresistible personality, absorbed in its delicious subject to the exclusion of all else; confused, and engaging. The writing is completely professional, aimed at leaving to the actor as much play as possible. One would like to have seen the young playwright directing the part.
But Launce apart, and the entrancing song (so far superior to all the verse dialogue) "Who is Sylvia?" in IV.ii, The Two Gentlemen is a poor affair--"one of Shakespeare's worst plays" (Theobald), "certainly one of the weakest and least satisfactory of all Shakespeare's plays" (Fleay),60"Shakespeare's first essay at originality ... sentimental bankruptcy ... an infallible sign of an early play" (Chambers), "intention at its crudest" (Charlton),61"it minces uncertainly to an implausible conclusion ... at best half-grown" (Van Doren).62 There is no convincing evidence for dating. It must be later than the Errors and as much earlier as possible than A Midsummer Night's Dream. Malone put it in 1591. The source is a Spanish story by Jorge deMontemayor [Story of the Shepherdess Filismena, in Diana, 1542], translated by Bartholomew Yong about 1582; this was not published till 1598, so Shakespeare saw either a manuscript [Yong's translation is known to have been completed by 1582] or read the French translation of 1578 or saw the Queen's Men play The History of Felix and Filiomenia [which is now lost] at court in 1585.63